NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson will return to the site of what he calls his greatest college victory but in a very different role.
Thompson, one of masters of Barry Switzer’s wishbone offense, led the second-ranked Sooners to a 17-7 win at No. 1 Nebraska back in 1987 in what was dubbed the “Game of the Century II.” He will be back at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday to cheer as his son, Casey, plays quarterback for Nebraska against No. 6 Oklahoma.
The game has special meaning for Charles because it’s a series he grew up watching. Nebraska and Oklahoma were powers in the Big 8 and Big 12 for decades before the Huskers left for the Big Ten, and the programs often played late-season games that affected the national title race.
“To be a part of it in this aspect it’s a little bit different for me,” Charles said. “Obviously, my son being the quarterback for the University of Nebraska and having a chance to go play against the Sooners is one of those deals — you can never say never.”
Charles had 21 carries for 126 yards in that 1987 game, and Oklahoma clinched the Big 8 title and a chance to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. Some old-school Nebraska fans still remember him ruining their Thanksgiving weekend.
“A lot of the fans say, ‘Hey, man, we’re really glad Casey is here, but I got to be honest, boy, you broke our hearts on that day,’ ” Charles said.
It’s been a strange ride for Charles as a parent. Casey led Texas, Oklahoma’s most hated rival, against the Sooners last year. He passed for 388 yards and five touchdowns, but the Sooners won 55-48.
Now, Casey has transferred to Oklahoma’s most historically respected rival. Charles said he wouldn’t wear Texas’ burnt orange last year, but he doesn’t mind wearing Nebraska’s scarlet and cream.
“Red has always been my favorite color anyway,” Charles said with a laugh. “I never actually wore the burnt orange. I did wear the logo, but it was either solid black or something white but never ever the burnt orange. But I don’t have a problem putting on the Nebraska red.”
While seeing a Thompson play in the game will bring back memories for some, elements of Saturday’s game will be very different. Oklahoma remains a powerhouse as it was in the 1980s, but Nebraska has struggled in recent years.
Nebraska won two national titles in the 1970s and three more in the 1990s, but the Huskers haven’t reached that level of greatness the past two decades. The program has been knocking on the door the past two years with a series of close losses, but the latest setback — a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern — cost coach Scott Frost his job.
Now, under interim coach Mickey Joseph, Casey could help launch Nebraska’s return to glory. Charles said the Huskers aren’t that far from being successful again.
“I think they’ve played decent and I think they’re offensively playing well enough to win games,” Charles said. “It’s got to be complementary football, though. They (the offense) have to do a little bit more to help the defense and vice versa.”
Casey could have been a Sooner. Oklahoma recruited him out of high school before he chose Texas. And when Casey was in the transfer portal, new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables tried to get him.
But Oklahoma also had recruited Dillon Gabriel, who knew offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby from their time together at Central Florida. Charles said the fact that Gabriel knew Lebby’s offense already led him to go elsewhere.
Casey has fit in quickly at Nebraska. In three games, he has passed for 866 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for four scores.
“He’s a winner,” Venables said. “He’s a leader. He believes in himself, so he plays with a lot of confidence. You’d really rather have an athletic, dual-threat guy that’s a scatterbrain, you know? He’s not like that. He’s kind of that stealth bomber mindset, which I love and respect.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP